The labourer is worthy of his hire

1 Timothy 5:18, ‘The labourer is worthy of his hire.’

Our family Bible reading a few nights back included the verse quoted above. Paul was writing to his son in the faith, and was speaking about the special honour due to elders who labour in the word. He reinforced this by referring to scriptural authority.

‘For the scripture says, Don’t muzzle the ox while it threshes, and, The labourer is worthy of his hire.’

While I believe a church must provide a suitable income for its teaching elder(s), that is not what caught my attention on this occasion.What stuck me, for the first time, was the fact that Paul refers to the words, ‘The labourer is worthy of his hire’ as scripture.

These Bible-words are found, not in the Old Testament, but only in the new testament Gospels and in 1 Timothy where it is quoted as scripture. It is, apart from the word ‘for’ (‘gar’ in Greek), precisely the words from Luke 10:7. Matthew 10:10 uses a different word; ‘food or keep’ rather than ‘hire or wages’.

A number of things presented themselves to my mind at this observation.

The word scripture used here is the same as that used by Paul in that famous passage from 2 Timothy 3:16. By it Paul and the Holy Spirit mean ‘Word of God written’. The Gospel of Luke is regarded by Paul as Scripture.

For this reason I do not think these words of Jesus came to Paul directly from an oral tradition. It came by a written text, and by a text, furthermore, that was already known to Paul’s readers. Luke’s gospel is the obvious source, as Paul and Luke were co-workers.

Luke probably researched and wrote his Gospel, beginning around AD 53, in and around Jerusalem perhaps, while Paul was held for two years in prison by Felix and Festus. Luke had certainly completed it well before Paul wrote 1 Timothy, which means both were written before AD 70. Paul’s death has been placed sometime around AD 64 during Nero’s reign (AD 54-68)

If all this is so, then the Gospel of Luke has an early date, and Luke’s record of Jesus predicting the destruction of Jerusalem was indeed prophecy and not history when the words were first written down.

I think that’s worth thinking about.


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